Research into ‘black genome’ suggests better treatment for mental disorders

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By searching for DNA outside of our genes by analyzing the ‘black genome’, scientists have discovered advanced proteins that can distinguish between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are mental disorders that remain difficult to diagnose and treat. Although these are some of the most inherited mental health disorders, little is known about their cause, but this research has found clues in sections of our DNA called genes.

Schizophrenia is a serious, long-term mental health problem that can cause hallucinations, delusions, and disturbances in thinking and behavior. While bipolar disorder often triggers extreme mood swings ranging from mania to depression. The blurred overlap of symptoms often makes the two disorders difficult to distinguish.

Therefore, these new proteins can be used as biological indicators to distinguish the two conditions and make the treatment process both more efficient and clearer.

Help identify patients more prone to psychosis or suicide

Published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the researchers found that “dark genome” hot spots commonly associated with disorders may have evolved due to their beneficial functions in human development.

However, their disturbance by environmental factors can easily lead to a susceptibility or development of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

These genomic components of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are specific to humans because the newly discovered regions are not found in the genomes of other vertebrates. Therefore, it is likely that these regions have evolved rapidly in humans with the development of cognitive abilities but are easily disturbed. This is what results in both conditions.

Dr Sudhakaran Prabakaran, based in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Genetics, lead author of the report, said: “Going through the entire genome, we found regions, not classified as genes in the traditional sense, which create proteins that appear to be associated with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“This opens up huge potential for new drug targets. It’s really exciting because no one has ever looked beyond genes for clues to understanding and treating these conditions before. “

“This opens up huge potential for new drug targets.”

Chaitanya Erady, a researcher in the Department of Genetics at Cambridge University and the study’s first author, added: “The traditional definition of a gene is too conservative, and it has distracted scientists from exploring the function. from the rest of the genome. .

“When we look outside the regions of DNA classified as genes, we see that the entire human genome has the capacity to make proteins, not just genes. We have discovered new proteins involved in biological and dysfunctional processes in disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Schizophrenia may be the result of a brain development specific to humans

Most of the drugs currently available for these disorders are designed to target proteins encoded by genes.

This new research helps explain why schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are inherited conditions – potentially providing new targets for future treatments for these conditions.

Dr Prabakaran’s research team have now discovered 248,000 regions of DNA outside of regions conventionally defined as genes, which code for new proteins that are disrupted in disease. He has now started raising seed money to develop new therapies, to target proteins involved in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – alongside other illnesses.

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